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Ford taking 30 percent of the water out of auto manufacturing

Ford is beginning 2012 with an aggressive plan to reduce the amount of water used in the fabrication of vehicles and continue the drive to efficiency not only in their vehicle lineup, but the manufacturing process as well. The new goal calls for a 30 percent reduction globally by 2015 of the amount of water used per vehicle in 2009.
Posted: January 2, 2012 - 2:02PM
Author: Don Bain

These efforts come on the heels of the Ford's Global Water Management Initiative launched in 2000 reducing the company’s global water use by 62 percent, or 10.5 billion gallons. That's equivalent to how much water 105,000 American residences use annually on average, based on figures from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Ford is also developing year-over-year efficiency targets as part of an environmental business planning process, established a cross-functional team overlapping several divisions to review water usage with sustainability in mind.

"Water remains one of our top environmental priorities and our aggressive reduction target helps ensure continued focus on this critical resource," said Sue Cischke, group vice president, Sustainability, Environment and Safety Engineering.

Should Ford meets this reduction goal, the amount of water used to make a vehicle will have been dropped from 9.5 cubic meters in 2000 to only 3.5 cubic meters in 2015. A cubic meter equals 264.2 gallons of water.

Water, drought and population growth are major challenges in locales such as Mexico's Sonoran Desert, home to Ford's Hermosillo Stamping and Assembly Plant. The plant produces the Ford Fusion, Fusion Hybrid and Lincoln MKZ.

Production has doubled at Hermosillo Stamping and Assembly Plant since 2000. Meanwhile, water usage at the plant was reduced by 40 percent.

"We applied innovative technology to our Hermosillo plant to reduce water consumption, minimize impact on the community and build vehicles in a more sustainable manner," said Larry Merritt, manager, Environmental Quality Office.

The reduced water use is accomplished by a water treatment system called a membrane biological reactor. The complex system is able to render up to 65 percent of the wastewater suitable for high-quality reuse in the facility or for irrigation. This water treatment system is also used at Ford plants in Chennai, India and Chongqing, China.

Another approach is to cut the amount of water necessary per task – a strategy using more advanced technologies and processes.

"As we invest in new and existing facilities globally, our water strategy prioritizes sustainable manufacturing technologies," said John Fleming, executive vice president, Global Manufacturing and Labor Affairs. "This disciplined approach allows us to make significant progress in water reduction and other environmental efforts over time."

For example, several of Ford's engine plants around the world are using Minimum Quantity Lubrication (MQL) machining, commonly known as dry-machining.

This technology lubricates cutting tools with a small amount of oil sprayed precisely on the tip in an atomized mist, rather than a large quantity of water mixed with coolant. The process saves hundreds of thousands of gallons of water and oil per year. By eliminating the coolant/water mixture, dry-machining eliminates the need to treat and dispose of an oily and environmentally undesirable waste stream.

Dry-machining is also realizing significant benefits in energy use, waste production, quality, working conditions and costs. For a typical 450,000-unit line, more than 280,000 gallons of water are saved annually.

The process is used in the U.S. at Ford's Livonia Transmission Plant, Van Dyke Transmission Plant and Romeo Engine Plant. Ford is also using this fabrication model at a number of transmission and engine plants in Europe, while applications in other plants is being considered.

When the initiative started in 2000, many facilities had little ability to even track water usage. Today Ford engineers have developed software to track and predict water usage.

Other water reduction procedures are built into Ford's Environmental Operating System (EOS), a standardized, streamlined approach to meeting environmental requirements, including sustainability objectives and individual targets in Ford's plants around the world.

Further, Ford's progress against its water reduction target will be revealed in the company's annual sustainability report and by participation in the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) Water Disclosure, which Ford was the first automaker to join in 2010.

CDP Water Disclosure serves as a central clearinghouse for Ford and other participating companies to report on water usage, water risks and water management plans of company operations and their supply chains.

"We recognize that these environmental issues are increasingly important to our stakeholders, including our customers, investors and business partners," said Merritt. "Water conservation is integral to Ford's global sustainability strategy. By reporting our progress, we support positive social change and reduce the environmental impact of our facilities."